Medical Daily explores seven subtle signs of anxiety – a mental health condition that affects about 18 percent of adults in the United States.
- Excessive Worry
Worrying from time to time is common as we navigate life. However, anxiety often involves an excessive, continual, and often overwhelming amount of worry. These thoughts can be ongoing for weeks or months.
Psychologist David Carbonell of Chicago explained that what distinguishes normal worry from excessive worry is repetition.
Worry indicates anxiety “when it focuses on hypothetical problems that don’t exist in the external world at the time, and when it disrupts one’s ability to actively take care of tasks and be involved with the world around them,” Carbonell said.
- Irrational Fears
There are a variety of types of anxiety disorders. Many people suffer from generalized anxiety, but others have anxiety related to a specific situation, event, or fear. These fears could be shopping, being in public, taking a test, spiders, etc.
It is natural to be afraid of something when it is likely to occur, such as being afraid of driving on an icy road after a storm. People with anxiety, however, experience this fear even when the situation is unlikely to occur.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Paul DePompo said, “[People with anxiety] are often fearful of the worst-case scenario response.”
Flashbacks are often most associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a disorder that often overlaps with other anxiety disorders.
“When flashbacks occur, it is your brain trying to deal with the anxiety by understanding what happened and trying to make sense of it,” said DePompo.
A flashback is often of a past traumatic experience, but for people with general anxiety, flashbacks can still occur. For instance, someone with social anxiety may have a flashback of being publicly humiliated.
- Compulsive Behaviors
Complusive behaviors – doing something repetitively such as checking the doors are locked, counting, etc. – is often characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
With OCD, a person’s repetitive, compulsive thoughts are often compounded by repetitive, compulsive behavior. This compulsive behavior can exhibit itself mentally or physically.
“These compulsions are generally the way they shut down the obsessive thoughts that are causing them (e.g. the germs on my hand are going to give me cancer…if I wash them, I won’t have to worry about it,” said Dr. Amanda Mulfinger, clinical psychologist.
- Muscle Tension
Muscle tension is often linked to anxiety because it occurs when the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated and in a high-arousal state. When this happens, the body is in what is known as a ‘fight or flight’ mode as it prepares to handle a stressful situation.
“Anxiety makes the SNS misfire, causing us to be prepared for danger in situations that aren’t threatening at all (e.g. a test at school),” said Mulfinger.
- Chronic Indigestion
Anxiety manifests physically and can negatively impact the digestive system. Psychological stress commonly affects the gut, so if you consistently experience stomach pain, indigestion, etc. you may have anxiety.
- Sleep Problems
Suffering from sleep problems is a common sign of anxiety. Usually this poor sleep is due to racing thoughts or excessive worry about a specific stressor.